RIYADH — Saudi Arabia will develop a nuclear bomb if its arch-rival Iran does so, the kingdom's 32-year-old crown prince said in a preview of a television interview released on Thursday.
"Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible," Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS in an interview that will air on Sunday.
The kingdom, locked in a tussle for influence with Iran across the Middle East and beyond, is stepping up plans to develop a nuclear energy capability as part of a reform plan led by Prince Mohammed to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil.
The United States, South Korea, Russia, France and China are bidding on a multi-billion dollar tender to build Saudi Arabia's first two nuclear reactors.
The world's top oil exporter has previously said it wants nuclear technology only for peaceful uses but has left unclear whether it also wants to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel, a process which can also be used in the production of atomic weapons.
The Saudi government approved a national policy for its atomic energy program on Tuesday, including limiting all nuclear activities to peaceful purposes, within the limits defined by international treaties.
Reactors need uranium enriched to around five percent purity but the same technology in this process can also be used to enrich the heavy metal to a higher, weapons-grade level. This has been at the heart of Western and regional concerns over the nuclear work of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival which enriches uranium domestically.
President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and announced he was replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, citing differences over the nuclear deal between Iran and the West.
"I actually got along well with Rex, but really it was a different mindset, a different thinking," Trump said Tuesday as he departed the White House for a trip to California. "When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. ... So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it's going to go very well."
The White House announced Monday that the president will meet with the Saudi crown prince on March 20, saying Trump "looks forward to discussing ways to strengthen ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia and to advance our common security and economic priorities."